Apart from snapping the odd passing couple who want to be photographed together I haven’t taken photographs since 2004, but there are two much appreciated souvenir photos in my study. The one printed out shows the four Leamington granddaughters on the top of Pendle Hill. Sylvie, the youngest, is standing on the trig point, arms raised triumphantly. Ava and Ellie also look ecstatic while Lil stands there staring into the distance, glum and beautiful, a ten-year-old Garbo. The one on my screen shows the four girls in wildly different poses hanging from the exercise bars of a playground; in the background is a steep green hill and some white cottages.
The first of our two and a half trips was to East Lancashire in the February half-term holiday. We stayed in two of the tiny cottages at the back of the Pendle Inn in Barley. The accommodation there was fairly cramped, but that added to the fun. We climbed the hill immediately on arrival because that seemed the best bet in terms of the weather. I had been determined we do this since seeing the ease with which they had climbed Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh the previous year. Sylvie had, apparently, announced that she wasn’t going to do it, but up she went without complaint. Lily and Ava bounded up ahead of me and Ellie did it doggedly at the same pace as Sylvie. Views were variable, moderate to good as the cloud moved around.
The following day the museums of the Pendle Heritage Centre and Clitheroe Castle (the world’s smallest Norman Castle, apparently) proved suitably diverting and educational; a commendable willingness to be diverted and educated was shown by all. And on the morning of the third day we explored something new even to me, the Pendle Sculpture Trail. We had it to ourselves: misty woodland and, of course, a witchcraft theme. This trip ended with a reprise of what we used to do at the end of trips to Lancashire a generation earlier which is to drive over to Yorkshire in search of posh fish and chips. In the earlier period we used to make for Harry Ramsden’s in Guiseley, but that expanded, went public and global and then collapsed. Now on the same site is one of five Wetherby Whaler restaurants (paradox: Wetherby is nowhere near the sea). But the new version has maintained the quality and dignity of its predecessor, the essential idea being of fish and chips as a proper high tea. Everything is very fresh and there are chandeliers and stained glass windows – and presents for children if you spend enough, which naturally we did.
Off to Ireland
In the summer holidays by popular request we went to Ireland, flying from Birmingham to Cork in an aeroplane with two propellors. It was a first ever flight for Lily and Ellie and they pronounced it boring, just like a bus ride. I didn’t bother to explain to them that boring is good when it comes to flying. The best part of the city from our point of view was the Shandon Road area. this contains St. Anne’s Cathedral where you can not only climb the tower, but also ring the bells by pulling on ropes and playing tunes following numbers. I have never had this opportunity before and it was great fun; Lily quickly became good at it. Residents, though, must get heartily sick of Amazing Grace and Abide with Me booming out over the district played with enormously different levels of competence. Nearby is the Butter Museum named for Tony O’Reilly the international rugby player and former CEO of Kerrygold. Are there any other butter museums?
The girls also liked the playground in Fitzgerald Park near the university accommodation where we were staying. Sitting watching them play – and intermittently adjudicating their disputes – I came to the conclusion that there were no Irish people present if appearances, languages and accents were anything to go by. At least, if there were Irish people present they were vastly outnumbered by the Arabs, Africans and East Europeans. The only person I engaged in conversation was the park attendant and he was from County Durham! The city’s Museum of History was nearby and there’s always something to learn. I knew nothing, for example, about the significance of the city’s Jewish population, let alone how it had been augmented by the consequences of the Limerick “pogrom” of 1904, a bout of anti-semitism inspired by a catholic priest, one Father John Creagh.
After three nights in Cork we decamped to the village of Glenbeigh in Kerry, about an hour and a half further west. The girls immediately acquired an extra grandfather in the form of the friendly proprietor of our large guest house. We climbed another mountain, or at least a large hill. It was called Seefin and the ascent begins immediately behind the guest house. It was boggy on the way up and there was a squally shower so sudden that it was over before we could seek shelter or don extra clothes. There were different degrees of dissent on the way up, even from Elly whose complaint was that she was the one who had never complained about anything and just got on with it and she still hadn’t managed to reach the top first. But at the top it was warm and sunny with huge views of the Atlantic coastline and MacGillicuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountains. I should add that this was one of at least eight hills and mountains in Ireland called Seefin which is not really surprising if you know that the name means “Finn’s seat”; that Finn got about a bit.
Much of the time was spent on the nearby beach at Rossbeigh. Gales and showers, brilliant sunshine, great rolling waves, picnics. Children don’t care much about the weather if there’s lots to do, a hearty breakfast and a trip to the pub for supper. We explored the beach and the “fairy walk” through the woods. The brave little lasses bathed, of course, and on the last day they rode ponies from the riding school down onto the beach, photogenically plodding through the surf on the most placid ponies you will ever meet. I think I saw Ellie’s mount briefly break into a trot, but otherwise it was all done at walking pace. So far as I know no-one has been pestered for riding lessons in the time since.
To Paris by Taxi
In September, the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers (whose existence was news to me) took a hundred children in a hundred taxis to Eurodisney in Paris. All the children invited had had a transplant In each taxi was a driver, the invited child, a child who was a friend or relative and an adult. Sylvie was offered the opportunity at short notice with the option of going on the trip next year with much more notice: we all took the “bird in hand” view. So our team was Ann, as both Sylvie’s parents had work commitments, Sylvie and Ava with Trev the taxi driver. So off they went to the ferry in a convoy of a hundred taxis with police escort on both sides of the channel. I wasn’t there except in spirit, but found the whole concept utterly remarkable. In my view it counts as half an A-team trip.